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Presence

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Sermon based on Luke 15:1-10

We are all familiar with the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her three companions followed the yellow brick road in search of the Great Wizard, who could give each one of them what they really wanted most in life. The tin man got a heart, the scarecrow a brain and the lion, courage. But, there was really nothing the wizard could do for Dorothy. All she wanted was to go home. That was the real drama in the story. She found herself in a fantasy world unable to return home. Yet by the story’s end Dorothy awakened in her own bed in Kansas. She was reunited with her Aunt promising never again to stray so far away from home. She had been lost but found. Her long journey, of searching, seeking and adventure resulted in her return to her roots. It was a joyful reunion.

Have we ever been lost? Unable to find our way or feel as though we are totally helpless or abandoned? Most of us don’t know what its like to slip through the cracks of society like a coin that falls beneath the floor boards, or a sheep that has disappeared from the flock. We however, often get lost in other ways and for other reasons. As a minister I have observed members of congregations who became lost by going through the motions and paying little attention to the details in their spiritual life. There are plenty of reasons for this behavior. It might be a result of pressures in the workplace or home. It might be a project at church that is consuming all their energy or focus. Things may on the surface be going great thus they assume their relationship with God can go on the back burner.

Sometimes grief is a factor in people becoming lost. People just can’t seem to get past loss. Charles Dickens’ book A Tale of Two Cities describes a cobbler who was prisoner in the Bastille who had lived in a cell for many years. He became so used to the narrow walls, the darkness, and the routine, that when he was finally freed, he went straight home and built, at the center of his home, a cell. On days when the skies were clear and birds were singing, the tap of his cobbler’s hammer could still be heard coming from the dim cell within his home that he had built. Sometimes grief has a way of imprisoning us and keeping us that way. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be grief over the loss of a loved one. It can be grief over the loss of a job or a promotion or a raise we thought we were going to get. It could even be grief over a decision we made years ago. But whatever it is that is causing the grief, it holds people as prisoners.

Sometimes it’s not so much us, but our past. We get lost listening to the voices of the past. It might be the voice of failure telling us that because we failed before, we can’t possibly succeed this time. It might be the voice of disappointment telling us that no matter how good the future looks right now; and no matter what we do, we’re just going to be disappointed again, so why bother to try. We become like lost sheep, alone and separated from the flock. Jesus offers us a series of parables in this 15th chapter about those who are “lost.” Our passage this morning focuses upon two of those parables. The first is parable of the lost sheep, and the second is parable of the lost coin. What follows is the parable of the prodigal son. All of these parables are about those lost who later are found. Unlike the parable of the prodigal son who comes to his senses and returns home, the first two parables in this chapter are about those who are recovered because someone went searching for them.

Through these parables Jesus is saying that effort should be made to recover those who are lost. With the parable of the lost sheep he is demonstrating that even strays are valuable to God. And with the coin he is saying that everyone has value and is worth going after. There are no write-offs in the Kingdom of God. Everyone is worthy of God’s grace. To make this happen we must have a presence in the community. We must actively search for the lost. King Duncan, an author and editor of the book Dynamic Preaching, once told a story about an elderly man was out walking with his young granddaughter. “How far are we from home?” he asked the girl. She answered, “I don’t know, Grandpa.” He asked, “Well, where are we?” Again she answered, “I don’t know.” Then grandpa kind of laughed and said, “Sounds to me like we are lost.” The young girl looked up at her grandpa and said, “No Sir, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.”

In a similar way this is our answer to being lost. Once we discover that we’re lost, Jesus enters our lives and brings us back into the flock. And once we give our life to Christ and know the comfort of God’s presence, we can’t be lost because we’re with Him. We may get discouraged and give up our search but God never gives up on us. Jesus is “the good shepherd” and we are “the sheep of his pasture.” As his sheep, we are each called to begin outreach, sharing our faith with others. This experience is a lot like wandering away from the flock. This is new, unfamiliar territory that scares many of us. Let’s not be too quick to forget our subject last week. Last week, we learned that an important step in outreach is proclamation. Today another step shown by the shepherd who left his 99 sheep and the woman who searched and searched for her lost coin is presence. To find the sheep and to find the coin, the people involved had a presence; they were actively searching for what was missing.

To share our faith with others, we have to have a presence with others to proclaim the Gospel. Often as we begin speaking of those lost, members who do not frequent morning worship or church activities are considered “lost.” Too often in the church for reasons unknown, some members make others feel guilty about not attending. People are extremely sensitive about their church membership. Although there may be periods of absence or inactivity they still feel connected. Our effort to make them stay connected is important. People are delighted when they receive the newsletter at their home or are included in other church mailings. People don’t want to be forgotten. Jesus taught on several occasions that our efforts can be better spent searching for and assisting the lost than rushing to judgment. The shepherd and the woman chose to model this behavior. The shepherd did not forget about the one lost sheep and seek comfort knowing that 99 were safe. The woman did not seek comfort knowing she still had her nine other silver coins, she went on to search for the single coin. Both experienced such a joy in finding them! Whenever we have an opportunity to share our faith no matter what the circumstances, we should take advantage of the opportunity.

The world’s greatest evangelist of our modern era, Billy Graham has one haunting memory in his life and it came as a result of his lack of presence with a particular person. In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election: Graham writes: On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. “Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?” He asked. “I most certainly do.” Graham responded. “Well, does my church believe it?” “They have it in their creeds.” Graham said. “They don’t preach about it,” he said. “They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.” “I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. “Only then,” I said, “are we going to have permanent world peace.” “Very interesting,” he said looking away. “We’ll have to talk more about that someday.”

 Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast a day that was cold and snowy Graham recalled. Graham remembers he had the flu. He wrote: “After I gave my short talk and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb he turned to me. “Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I’d like to see you for a minute.” Graham responded, “Mr. President, I’ve got a fever, not only am I weak, but I don’t want to give you this thing. Couldn’t we wait and talk some other time?” “Of course,” Kennedy said graciously. The two however would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was assassinated. Graham wrote, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”

As this illustration proves, we can’t always count on the “second chances” to share God’s message. Let us take advantage of our “first chances” for our presence is what God demands.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

September 18, 2016

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